Armed vigilantes apprehend hundreds of asylum seekers near Mexican border

[April 18, 2019] Members of a heavily-armed group of vigilantes calling themselves the United Constitutional Patriots intercepted and apprehended hundreds of asylum seekers this week, despite having no authority to do so.

One of the men filmed while others took the asylum seekers, including children, into custody on Tuesday night. For the past two months, the group has camped out in the desert near the town of Sunland Park, on the border between New Mexico and the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

“This is a brand new group who’s invading camp right now guys,” one of the group’s members can be heard saying in the video, which was first broadcast by a local television station, KENS5. The group then turned the asylum seekers over to Border Patrol.

A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official told ThinkProgress that while the agency welcomes community assistance, it does not condone vigilante groups taking border enforcement into their own hands.

“Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequence for all parties involved,” the official said in a statement. “Border Security operations are complex and require highly trained professionals with adequate resources to protect the country.”

Speaking to KENS5, however, United Constitutional Patriots member Jim Benvie — who filmed the initial video — defended the group’s actions.

“We’re just Americans,” Benvie said. “We’re veterans, we’re ex-law enforcement, we’re people who care about the over-strained Border Patrol.” As to why the group was so heavily armed, Benvie contended that there was danger that went along with their patrols, since they were supposedly interfering with cartel-run trafficking.

A Sunland Park police spokesman told ThinkProgress that the group has remained in the desert and has not made forays into residential areas. What’s more, his understanding was that the group was not supposed to intervene, only observe and report. Police also said that Sunland Park was an extremely safe area, owing in part to its proximity to El Paso (which is one of America’s safest cities of its size), as well as the proximity of the nearby military base Fort Bliss.

United Constitutional Patriots did not respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment.

Groups like United Constitutional Patriots are not a new presence on the border. A variety of organizations, such as the Minutemen and Arizona Border Recon, regularly patrol the border with the stated aim of gathering “intelligence” on migrant crossings. These groups generally deny that they’re militia members or that they’re on the border to do anything other than provide intel to Border Patrol.

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Luke Barnes